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Tohono O'odham election flips tribal control, again: Ned Norris is back

The new chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation will be the same as an old chair: Ned Norris Jr. will again take the top elected post of the tribe, following an election over the weekend.

Norris will succeed Edward D. Manuel — who ousted Norris in a May 2015 vote.

The new terms for Norris and running mate Wavalene Saunders, the incoming vice chairwoman of the Native American nation, will begin June 14.

Norris and Saunders — T-O candidates run as a slate, like the U.S. president and vice president — received 1,997 of the more than 3,300 ballots cast, a nearly 60 percent share of the votes, in Saturday's election.

Manuel and vice-chair Verlon Jose failed in their bid for re-election. Four years ago, they got about 53 percent of the vote — a margin of just more than 200 votes — and turned Norris and Saunders out of office. Norris had led the nation for eight years at that point.

Norris was first elected in 2003 as the vice chairman to Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders. He resigned that post in 2006, and defeated his former running mate for the tribe's top job in 2007, with a repeat in 2011.

The pair had knocked Manuel out of his earlier stretch as Tohono O'odham chairman; Manuel ran the tribe for two terms, from 1995 to 2003.

One potential wrinkle in the latest election results: Vivian Juan-Saunders is the sister-in-law in the incoming vice chair; she is married to Tohono O'odham Police Chief Richard Saunders, who found himself retiring from the force in the months after Norris was first elected to the top post. After Manuel regained the chairmanship, Saunders — brother of the new vice chair — returned to head the force.

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The Tohono O'odham Nation, which at 2.8 million acres is the size of Connecticut and takes up much of western Pima County, lies southwest of Tucson and has about 35,000 residents. With the reservation running along about 75 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border, the tribe's capital is in Sells, about 60 miles from Tucson. Tribal membership extends across the border, with Tohono O'odham members allowed to cross into the Mexican portion of the nation at the San Miguel gate on the reservation.

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courtesy Norris campaign

Norris and Saunders.